By Amlan Chakraborty
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – New Zealand captain Kane Williamson encouraged his frontline batsmen to play with freedom in Tuesday’s semi-finals against India to overcome their struggle for rhythm in the Cricket World Cup.
Not surprisingly, Williamson is New Zealand’s leading scorer after the group stage with 481 runs from eight matches at a 96-plus average.
The next Kiwi batsman in that list is veteran Ross Taylor, way down with 261 runs and an average of 37.28.
Williamson said his fellow batsmen had struggled to adjust to diverse English conditions where a winning total can vary greatly according to the state of the pitch on the day.
“We were certainly expecting that it would be tough. But what we didn’t quite expect coming into the tournament was the large variety of conditions that we faced,” Williamson told a news conference at Old Trafford.
“That definitely made perhaps batting with any rhythm a real challenge for everybody, so being able to adapt with the bat and just trying to contribute … is certainly the most important thing.”
“It’s just a great occasion to be a part of. I know the guys are really excited by the opportunity to go out and try and try and play with that freedom that when we do gives us the best chance.”
Addressing a news conference before him, India captain Virat Kohli said the “special” Williamson controlled the team’s tempo and would naturally be a key wicket for the Indian bowlers.
Williamson denied New Zealand were too reliant on him to give their bowlers a decent, defendable total.
“No, I think there’s also been a number of other contributions that have been really important for us to get to where we are right now,” he said.
“You never sort of put a number on it. That is why we all practice as hard as we can to try and make those contributions bigger and better.”
That, however, would not be easy against India’s varied pace attack, led by Jasprit Bumrah, currently the top-ranked ODI bowler.
Bumrah’s skills with both the new and old ball have been complemented by Bhuvneshwar Kumar, while Mohammed Shami has struck rich form after his delayed introduction, claiming 14 wickets from four matches, including the tournament’s first hat-trick.
Besides, India have two wily wrist-spinners in Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal.
“The Indian bowling attack is an outstanding bowling attack, with certainly a lot of world-class operators in there,” Williamson said.
“As a side, they are very well-balanced with a lot of high-quality players.”
New Zealand finished their group campaign with a hat-trick of defeats but still claimed the last semi-final berth.
The 2015 finalists will hope to begin afresh on Tuesday, their captain said.
“It all starts again where the day comes and anything can happen and all sides have beaten one another on a number of occasions throughout the last few years, so it is a really exciting opportunity for all teams.”
(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in Manchester; Editing by Keith Weir)